Art: On the Block

"SOLD—$23,000."

Hardly an eyebrow lifted when in Manhattan last week a dust-filled, muscular, melodramatic painting was knocked down for that fancy price. The painting: A Dash for Timber, by Frederic Remington, No. 1 painter-illustrator of the old Wild West, fast friend of Teddy Roosevelt. Was $23,000 high?

It was. Yet cash is plentiful in the current U.S. art market—and pedigreed paintings are scarce. Average collectors may well be confused by recent auction prices. So may experts. (The jolt of the year was a Bellini from the Jules Bache collection. Bache had paid $160,000 for...

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